Sunday, 4 March 2012

Gay Identity in Contemporary America

The video I have chosen to represent gay identity in contemporary America is an extract from comedian Charlie Ballard's performance at the 2006 Outlaugh Comedy Festival in California. In it he identifies himself as being both gay and an American Indian, and successfully attempts to make a mockery of the pre-conceived notions people may have about him - as both a gay man, and an American Indian.

He uses the history between American Indians and European settlers as a way of making people laugh - referring to the trail of tears and being a fashionista in the same breath, recalls taunts from children about not being able to get a 'reservation' and turning it around to ask them if they can identify their father, and apologises for his lack of a casino shirt to make himself more identifiable as an American Indian.

At one point he even refers to himself as an endangered species, going so far as to joke that he fears smallpox more than HIV, declaring his Indian name as Dances-with-men, and laughingly states that when a man says they're attracted to him because he's American Indian he's unsure whether to hoot like a tribes men to satisfy their fetish.

By taking these controversial issues and putting them in a comic setting, Ballard has allowed us to see the absurdity behind the prejudices people hold. That assuming every gay man has HIV is like assuming all white men have smallpox, and assuming all gay men are fashionistas and American Indians have a casino, is like assuming no white child knows their father. His mockery highlights people's insecurities and hidden fears for what they are - unfounded.

By making people laugh at what they would usually identify with a gay man, or with an American Indian, Ballard subtly opens the door for introspective re-evaluation, assuming that when these people go home they think back on what he's said and find the meaning behind the sarcasm. The fact that he is doing this in a public setting and receiving applause for it, denotes not only a need for ridicule in some contemporary attitudes, but an acceptance by many in contemporary America for homosexuality and multiculturalism.

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